Susi Ryan, a quilter from Worcester, Mass., delivered an emotional presentation on the connections between her handiwork and her ancestor Venture Smith, the author of a 1798 slave narrative. Credit Brendan Bannon for The New York Times.
By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER-NOV.3, 2015, presented in the New York Times.com
BUFFALO — The Michigan Street Baptist Church, built here in the 1840s, was a haven for fugitives on the Underground Railroad, and a place of worship for illustrious citizens like Mary Burnett Talbert, a founder of the movement that led to the creation of the N.A.A.C.P.
But one afternoon last weekend, its modest sanctuary hosted some other notable guests: nearly a dozen descendants of authors of slave narratives and other African-American antislavery activists.
They included descendants of famous figures like Dred Scott, the plaintiff at the center of the infamous 1857 Supreme Court ruling, and Solomon Northup, the author of “Twelve Years a Slave,” as well as descendants of less famous figures, all of whom had come for an unusual three-day gathering organized by the State University of New York at Buffalo.
They arrived with photographs, books and rolling bags full of research materials, along with a shared conviction in the importance of taking history into their own hands.
Among them was Susi Ryan, a quilter from Worcester, Mass., who delivered an emotional presentation on the connections between her handiwork and her ancestor Venture Smith, whose 1798 autobiography describes being captured by slave traders in West Africa as a child and then shipped to the Americas.
“He talks about being sold to his first owner for four barrels of rum and a piece of calico,” Ms. Ryan said, pausing to gather herself. “So much of our memory is carried through cloth.”
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